LibriVox recording of An Essay on Man, by Alexander Pope. Read by Martin Gleeson.
Pope’s Essay on Man, a masterpiece of concise summary in itself, can fairly be summed up as an optimistic enquiry into mankind’s place in the vast Chain of Being.
Each of the poem’s four Epistles takes a different perspective, presenting Man in relation to the universe, as individual, in society and, finally, tracing his prospects for achieving the goal of happiness.
In choosing stately rhyming couplets to explore his theme, Pope sometimes becomes obscure through compressing his language overmuch. By and large, the work is a triumphant exercise in philosophical poetry, communicating its broad and commonplace truths in superbly balanced phrases which remind us that Pope, alas, is one of the most quoted but least read writers in English:
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always To be Blest.” (Summary by Martin Geeson)
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Reviewer:Joseph A. Marcus
March 20, 2011 Subject:
Geeson reads Pope superbly!
Martin Geeson, who has contributed his time and talents in enormous measure to Librivox projects, does an excellent job narrating Pope's "An Essay on Man." He reads with great clarity, precision, accuracy and sensitivity — neither monotonous nor melodramatic, with perfect pronunciation, enunciation and phrasing indicative of an obviously deep and appreciative understanding of this poem.
I suppose some listeners will be put off by Pope's extreme theodicy — and think immediately of Leibniz and Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's "Candide" — but "An Essay on Man" is a jam-packed with famous phrases, wit, and historical significance. Thanks to Mr. Geeson's carefully nuanced reading, it is easy on the ears to listen to his recording repeatedly, which is useful since, whereas Pope is not really all that difficult, we are talking early 18th-Century English and a classic work densely packed with important philosophical ideas and allusions.